(Mar-Bal, Inc.)

The consumer appliance sector comprises a complex mix of buyer preference, brand identity, feature-based model design, application-specific performance characteristics, safety / regulatory elements, and of course, price. Balancing all of these factors along with the interplay of material characteristics, production technologies, Design-for-Manufacturing (DFM) guidelines, throughput yield, stringent quality criteria, and of course, cost, can be a significant undertaking. When the aesthetic requirements of high appearance components are added into the equation, the result is a very challenging dynamic for both the Tier 1 AND the OEM they service. Polymer materials, both thermoset and thermoplastic, enjoy extensive use in the design / manufacture of consumer appliances. In the cooking segment, with elevated temperature being a primary in-service condition for certain high appearance components, thermoset composites have long been the material of choice. The reasons are many, but key aspects include stability of properties over a wide temperature range, design freedom, ability to be produced in high output molding processes, and favorable production economics. In addition, the formulation flexibility inherent in thermoset composites allows material developers to address myriad aspects of a cooking components’ value equation while in parallel designing high aesthetics into the thermoset compounds they develop. Recent trending toward stainless steel as an aesthetic category favored by consumers has challenged brand managers, industrial designers, OEM platform engineers, and components suppliers. Often the desire is to have stainless steel components [in this case in the form of oven handles / vent trims / consoles / etc.] available for use in as many model / price point combinations as is possible. But the cost limitations of using solid stainless steel along with the bounded applicability of stainless steel casting / stamping / fabrication processes relative to the design-price relationship has restricted proliferation of this favorable design trend within the OEM’s portfolio. The innovation comprises the development, launch, and production of an integrated console assembly for a Whirlpool slide-in oven. The console includes a thermoset composite produced via high output thermoset BMC injection molding, imparting a brushed stainless steel look by way of Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD), and a value-add assembly step where an escutcheon and other components are added. Unique aspects of the innovation include a forward-looking design which would be difficult / impossible with other metal processes, ongoing improvements in throughput and component economics, along with a high level of combined collaboration amongst many Tier 1 / OEM teams.